For two years, Aubrey Carroll’s parents had hunted high and low for their missing son. Then police showed them a Facebook page full of photographs of an older, bearded young man. The name was different, but the face was the same – and they were one step closer to finally finding out the truth.
Aubrey spent his early years growing up in Jones County in central Georgia, the son of Danielle Vinson and Michael Carroll. However, his parents soon separated, and Aubrey moved to nearby Spalding County in 2016. And even though it seems that he had been popular and well liked at Jones County High School, he soon settled in to his new life.
Aubrey settled into Spalding High School in Griffin, a small city close to Atlanta, Georgia. And when custody issues meant that he had to move back in with his father in Jones County, he stayed at his new high school to finish the year. Every morning, Michael would drive for more than an hour so that Aubrey could catch the bus to school.
But even though Aubrey was able to continue his studies alongside his friends, there were a few signs of trouble at the Carroll home. According to Gina Fountain, the boy’s great-aunt, Michael could be very strict. And sometimes, the high-spirited Aubrey found himself barred from the socializing that he loved.
Then, one weekend in mid-May 2016, Aubrey found himself in trouble once more. Although Michael claimed that it was just a minor incident, just days later the family would find themselves plunged into a terrible ordeal. On May 24, Michael dropped Aubrey at the bus stop as usual – unaware that his son was about to disappear.
That day, Aubrey was due to take exams alongside his classmates at Spalding High School. But even though he reportedly completed them, he never returned home. And when his stepmother Leah arrived at the bus stop to collect him, the 15-year-old was nowhere to be seen.
Puzzled, Michael reached out to Aubrey’s friends to ask if they had seen his missing son. But when he realized that they did not know where Aubrey was, he contacted the police. Soon, a search was launched that would consume both families’ lives for the next two years.
As time passed, more facts about the day of Aubrey’s disappearance emerged. Apparently, he had left Spalding High School in the company of a friend, a boy named David Rutledge. And while no one seemed to know where he had stayed that night, he was reportedly still in the area the next day.
On May 25, Aubrey apparently showed up at the home of another friend, Camron McCree. But when Camron’s mother found out that Michael didn’t know where Aubrey was, she refused to let the teenager spend the night. Instead, Aubrey allegedly asked some members of his social circle to drop him at a nearby truck stop.
According to investigators, Aubrey had friends in Gary, Georgia, some 150 miles from where he disappeared. What’s more, they believed that he may have had contact with them before he left. But after that the trail went cold, and Aubrey seemed to have simply dropped off the face of the Earth.
Confusingly, Michael did not notify Danielle that Aubrey was missing at first. Apparently, he believed that the teenager had run away and that he would return home of his own accord. However, as time passed with no word from the boy, Aubrey’s family began to worry that something sinister might have befallen him.
As Danielle’s side of the family grew suspicious about Michael’s secrecy, investigators failed to come up with any leads. Then, in January 2017, a new county sheriff arrived in town. Assigned to Aubrey’s case, Darrell Dix spoke to Aubrey’s family about the still-missing teen.
“We decided to go back to the beginning and re-interview the witnesses, re-investigate any clues and completely rebuild the case,” Dix told Dateline in 2017. And in the hope of reigniting any memories about the case, the department began offering a $5,000 reward to anyone able to track Aubrey down.
Meanwhile, Aubrey’s 16th birthday came and went with no sign of the missing boy. Then, on April 10, 2018 – almost two years after the teenager disappeared – police met with his parents to share a breakthrough in the case. Apparently, they had tracked down a Facebook profile – and the photographs looked oddly familiar.
Although the profile had been created under a different name, investigators were sure that it was Aubrey in the photographs. And when they showed them to his parents, their suspicions were confirmed. Apparently, not only was Aubrey alive and well – but he had been living a life worthy of the movie screen.
According to investigators, Aubrey had spent the past two years moving around the midwest and the west coast of the United States. Apparently, he had fallen in with a group of people who lived off grid, working jobs for cash and bartering for goods. And without a paper trail, he had been almost impossible to trace.
According to Dix, Aubrey’s new friends were part of the hippie subculture. “They basically looked like a group of people from the Woodstock era in their clothing and lifestyle,” Dix explained in a press release. And with his grown-out hair and beard, Aubrey had slotted right in. However, his itinerant way of life had attracted attention, and it’s thought that the teenager was involved in incidents with law enforcement on five separate occasions.
At first, both Aubrey’s parents and the investigators agreed not to reach out to Aubrey in case they frightened him off. At 17 years old, he was no longer considered a child and also did not appear to be at risk. However, one family member decided to contact the teenager, and everyone was delighted when he chose to respond.
Soon Aubrey spoke to his mother on the telephone and a reunion was arranged. And by April 16, the boy was home at last. The next day, he met with police officers to tell them his incredible tale. “He told us that he left on his own, and had not been abducted, hurt abused, exploited or harmed in any way,” Dix announced in a press release.
What’s more, Aubrey appeared to have been on quite the adventure. “His tale was absolutely amazing,” continued Dix. “He has seen and done things that make your jaw drop.” And although the reasons behind Aubrey’s disappearance remain a mystery, for now his family seems content just to have him safely home.